Four for Four
August 13, 2010 -- All four top seeds, and top ranked players, made it to the semifinals of Rogers Cup today. The last time this happened was in Cincinnati last year, another Masters 1000 tournament.
The quartet on top at Rogers Cup is the same fantastic four as in Cincinnati, with a couple shifts ... Federer's the most noteworthy. He hasn't been seeded, or ranked, #3 since November 2003.
Andy Murray took a big step in defense of his title today. He defeated David Nalbandian -- the hottest comeback player on tour, moving up from #117 to #45 this week. The Scot's victory broke Nalbandian's personal best 11-match winning streak. Murray's victory also stoked his confidence.
Accused of a defensive style game that doesn't serve him well enough to win elite tournaments, Murray reversed engines today anticipating a strong baseline offense from Nalbandian.
"I was expecting it to be a very tough match and it wasn't," Murray said. "When I was getting to the balls I was defending with better length, better depth. It was a lot harder for him to dictate [an] attack."
Murray kept Nalbandian at bay with an upbeat aggressive strategy, pinning the Argentine in the backcourt with deep groundstrokes. And, he yanked Nalbandian around the court with keen placement of deep groundstrokes. In a word, Murray changed his court posture, and he knew it.
"It was one of the best matches I've played this year," Murray acknowledged.
Go figure. Murray without a coach is better than Murray with a coach. Perhaps flying solo is what he's always needed.
Philipp Kohlschreiber hasn't posed problems for Rafael Nadal, except on hard courts when the German had come close to beating the Spaniard. Fans grew anxious today after Nadal lost the first set. But with a 6-0 head-to-head record, the cards were in his favor. And, Kohlschreiber is predictable.
"I think today I started terrible," Nadal said clearly. "So it is a good victory for me, especially because I finished the match playing better in the third."
Kohlschreiber bludgeoned the ball and served aces, but couldn't maintain his aggression on the run. He angered Nadal with precise drop shots. But his most critical error was on second serves... he went to Nadal's forehand.
The shift came in the middle of the third set. Kohlschreiber failed to convert a couple break points, and dragged his disappointment into the next couple games. Nadal sensed it and stepped up his assault, breaking at love.
"You playing defensive, you can win a few matches," Nadal said thoughtfully. "But have the chance to be in semifinals or finals is impossible playing defensive because finally you play against he best players of the world. If you have defensive in this court, it's impossible to best them."
The Berdych/Federer match was the "It Match" of the day. Fans were jacked. Berdych rolled over Federer in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon this year, and snuck by in a tiebreak in Miami. If Federer didn't pull it off tonight, the fallout from the media would be harsh.
But Friday the thirteenth was Federer's lucky night. Starting strong and reminiscent of a Roger of 2005, he assertively took the first set. He took care of his serve and jumped on his chances when they came up, the way Pete Sampras pulled off victory after victory.
Toward the end of the second, both men faltered. They served pairs of double faults in a game when each had had sailed along smoothly. Serving to go to a tiebreak, Federer double faulted, framed a backhand, and sent shots wide. The king cracked. Berdych took the set 7/5.
"That was a tough moment for both of us," Federer began. "He also double faulted twice around that time. I thought the transition going from day to night was kind of tricky. I just felt like all of a sudden I didn't see the ball as clearly anymore. I definitely played a shocker game."
Mid-way in the third Berdych dug a deep hole -- love/forty -- and handed Federer an engraved invitation that read: it's yours. But Berdych became the thorn in Federer's side. He hit two second-serve aces, put away a delightful volley, and drew a backhand error. Door closed.
"In Miami, I think he was up a break too in the third and I cam back and pushed it to the breaker and then had 6-5 on my own serve," Federer said. "At Wimbledon he served for the match and I also had a couple break point opportunities in the last game to come back, so it was deja vu in these last two matches. I just kind of felt this was probably going to slip away."
Berdych was a happy Czech. What did he care if Federer had held. He was about to win. Berdych, though, acted cocky. A bit ahead of himself. And Federer pulled another rabbit from his lucky hat. He came from 0/40 down, won the game and took the match to a tiebreak.
Federer's 4-0 lead in the breaker vanished in a snap after a guy in the audience yelled, "Are you nervous, Berdych?" The barb spurred him on. Federer sprayed the next three points, but luckily managed to win the breaker and the match on an inside out forehand -- the score was 63 57 76(5).
"Such a long match," Berdych began. "I lost in the tiebreak of the third set, so I don't think that even with any other opponent you can say it is easier or tougher. Every match is different. I mean it was about just a couple of points."
It wasn't just a couple points for Novak Djokovic. He convincingly defeated Jeremy Chardy in straight sets 62 63 in just over an hour.
"As soon as I stepped on the court tonight I felt the ball right," Djokovic said confidently. "I served a very high percentage of the first serves in and basically put a lot of pressure on his service. I got a lot of returns back. Those were keys to victory."
Tomorrow Djokovic plays Federer, and Nadal plays Murray.